Songs by Cincinnati Musicians Perfect for your Summertime Soundtrack

The playlist features recent releases alongside songs from the city’s past

Jun 12, 2024 at 2:40 pm
CityBeat's summer playlist features songs from new and classic Cincinnati artists.
CityBeat's summer playlist features songs from new and classic Cincinnati artists. Graphic: Brent Stroud

Now that summer is finally here, it’s time to update your playlists. Ahead, we’ve crafted an immaculate playlist featuring some of the best summer-y tunes released by Greater Cincinnati musicians throughout the years. 

The playlist features recent releases alongside songs from the city’s past, with up-and-coming artists or current favorites sitting side-by-side with some of the city’s greatest musicians. Cincinnati’s music culture consists of musicians, creative circles and communities of every genre who have been creating music and entertaining audiences as long as the three-minute pop song has been around. 

Hopefully this list gives you something to listen to this summer and can be the soundtrack to some of your best summer moments. Bring it with you to your next get-together with friends, family grill session or pool party — or even just in your car with the windows down.

Happy Summer from CityBeat.

“Rare Earth” by Vacation

Vacation has remained a vital and essential centerpiece of Cincinnati music since forming in 2009, with nine consistently inspired releases and rock and roll-driven live performances. The Rare Earth album, released in May on local label Feel It Records, is a continuation of the band’s immediate and often combustible revved-up punk sound. Anchored by singer and guitar player Jerry Westerkamp’s reflective and far-reaching subject matter in songwriting, along with a vocal delivery that can cut straight through to the core, “Rare Earth” shows a lot of what Vacation can do.

“It Returns” by The Greenhornes

This 2002 track from Dual Mono feels like driving down a sunny city street with the commotion of summer all around. The song is from the height of the late ‘90s/early 2000s garage rock revival and a good representation of Cincinnati’s significant part in an impactful and particular moment in pop culture when rock and roll started to take over popular music once again. The Greenhornes formed in the late ‘90s with a couple of small lineup changes before settling as a trio. This song and the album that it comes from, Dual Mono, features Cincinnati luminary Eric Stein, who was featured on CityBeat’s list of the best songs of 2023, on vocals and harpsichord. The album also features Greenhornes’ mainstay vocalist/guitar player Craig Fox, along with drummer Patrick Keeler and bassist Jack Lawrence just before the two became the rhythm section for the 2004 Jack White-produced, Grammy-winning album with Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose. Fox and Keeler are now a part of The Raconteurs with White. This song truly represents a high point in the city’s music history.

“It’s Open” by Gremlin

This direct and driving garage rock nugget was released this spring and shows some promise for the new project featuring a handful of Cincinnati rock and roll heavyweights. “It’s Open” should provide a proper soundtrack to driving down the highway to your next summer sock hop, party, music festival, canoe trip, get-together or wherever the wind takes you.

“Free Like You” by Maria Keck

This breezy, effervescent track bubbles skyward while reaching below the depths lyrically — all the while evoking the weightlessness and freedom that summer brings. Multi-instrumentalist Maria Keck released the video for “Free Like You” in early spring from her 2023 record, The Gardener and Me, that features Keck and dancers moving under the neon glow of the American Sign Museum’s color wheel of timeless light. Maybe this one will help bring a few summer moments the same kind of dreamy perfection as listening to this song makes you feel.

“Inkjet” by GrandAce

The production on GrandAce’s hypnotic chopped and skewed backing track, “Inkjet,” creates the atmosphere of a dub-infused digital psychedelia. The vocals delivered line after line between rhythmic choruses and counter melodies bring it up to another level and thread the song into a catchy cohesive unit you want to hear over and over again. 

“Sleeping Around” by The Dents

The Dents show Cincinnati’s connection to the punk movement that was brewing in cities across America by the mid-1970s, and a thread can easily be seen between the first generation of Cincinnati punk and the bands playing the same kind of clubs today. Another version of the song is featured on the 2019 compilation of Cincinnati punk from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, We Were Living in Cincinnati. Dents singer Vivien Rusch is still very much a presence in the city as the singer of Spiderhand, a band recently featured on CityBeat’s year-end Best Of Cincinnati list for 2023. Let your summer be as timeless as this music.

“Serotonin” by Tweens

Tweens released this song earlier in the year, along with a handful of other B-sides and demos, but it wouldn’t be summer without them. The band’s performances have been the soundtrack to music fans’ summers since forming just over a decade ago. Tweens have had memorable appearances at the Northside Rock and Roll Carnival over the years and just last month at the North By Northside Festival. Though this song is about heartbreak, it’s all transcendence and power. 

“Walk Tall (Like a Man)” by 2 of Clubs

This 1966 hit, released on Cincinnati’s Fraternity Records label, reached number 92 nationally on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was featured in the 1967 comedy Doctor, You’ve Got to Be Kidding! starring Sandra Dee. The stellar recording is a varied and dramatic presentation of a tale of a woman (or two) begging a man to do right and “for once in your life, be a man.”

“Obloquy” by Annie D (Live at the Tone Shoppe)

“Obloquy” comes from a recent live session at Cincinnati studio The Tone Shoppe. Annie D has become one of the area’s premiere acts, and understandably so — her eclectic approach to songwriting and talent as a multi-instrumentalist make for some varied and well-crafted pieces of music as good as anything else in or outside of the city.

“MOTH” by Turich Benjy

From ULTRASOUND (DELUXE) released earlier this year, “MOTH” grabs and pulls from so many different styles and influences while pushing ahead so hard that it sounds like a kind of reinvention of hip-hop. It almost feels like some glitched hyper-pop transmission from the future. 

“What so Never The Dance” by Bootsy Collins

Bootsy Collins played with legend and King Records recording artist James Brown for a time before joining Parliament Funkadelic and later forming Bootsy’s Rubber Band, changing the musical world. He also formed a group with his brother Phelps “Catfish” Collins in the early ‘70s called House Guests. Local label and record shop Shake It Records released a collection of music from the group titled My Mind Set Me Free in 2019 that features a version of this song and a handful of other freewheeling and wild early funk concoctions and collected recordings. This song will hopefully get you in the right mood, whatever that is. From one of Cincinnati’s best known and loyal resident celebrities, Bootsty Collins and CityBeat, straight to you.

“Loud and Low” by Brian Olive

This single from Brian Olive’s 2018 LP Living on Top will stay in your head for days, weeks or even months and you’ll be all the better for it. There’s also a great WCPO Live Session on YouTube of the song. Olive came up as a member of The Greenhornes on their first record as well as a member of The Soledad Brothers (a band that also features another Cincinnati favorite, Johnny Walker), but has made a name for himself as a solo artist over the last several years, as well as behind the scenes at his Mt. Saturn Studios. This is a great song for summer drives. 

“Comfort Queen” by Lydia Shae

Lydia Shae and her band released this statement of a song earlier in the year from the singer-songwriter’s debut album, Decade Diaries, that featured a release show at the Woodward Theater in March. “Comfort Queen” is bold in every way and a fine example of local country-tinged pop.

“Fear Is Never Boring” by The Raisins

This wildly adventurous and multi-genre-bending song from The Raisins’ 1983 debut and sole studio album is as significant a piece of the city’s music history as nearly anything. Their sold-out, three-night stand at the Woodward Theater in the beginning of March for the band’s reunion celebration is evidence of their impact on the city and the scene of clubgoers that followed the band’s live shows before the group disbanded and made their individual impacts.

“Turn the Page” by Moonbeau

Moonbeau released this infectious electro-pop-infused song just in time for summer on May 10. The duo blend Talking Heads rhythms, ‘80s synth and 2000s indie pop into an ode to love and connection. Not bad sentiments for the summer.

“Blue” by Left at Orion

Left at Orion blends up a dreamy, reverb-soaked haze of melody on this track that feels like a psychedelic wall of sound. “Blue” is one of the more contemplative moments in the playlist.

“Ms. Chanel” by Cartier WOW

Rising local hip-hop artist Cartier WOW has had write-ups from The Source and other magazines over the last few months, and he seems to have a drive that won’t stop with a constant flow of releases. This track is just over two minutes of stacked, high-energy rapid-fire lines delivered almost over top of each other and melody-infused Cincinnati hip-hop. 

“Shaken” by Pretty Mean

The female-fronted and powerhouse drummer-backed Pretty Mean are one of the newest bands on this list and this single off their upcoming debut makes a bold statement with its propulsive drive and inventively compartmentalized structure. 

“Tigers Cage” by The Drin

The Drin’s “Tigers Cage” pieces together a looped-sounding guitar riff accompanied by bouncing drums and percussion with a cloud dissonance bouncing back and forth in stereo. The track’s sound is all-changing subtly underneath the surface before dropping out to a single horn blowing in the distance. This song feels like a late night moving around the city until everything stops in the early hours and a calm comes before the night’s over.

“Mac and Yams” by KAE Savage

KAE Savage put out one of the standout tracks of last summer, “I Wanna Be Ur Dog” a reworking of The Stooges’ classic that was featured on CityBeat’s aforementioned Best of 2023 list. “Mac and Yams” takes a different route but carries the same weight, with atmospheric neo-soul layers of melody overtop a six-minute jam with a swamp funk bassline, accented by waves of moody keyboard and rapid-fire verses delivered between a soaring chorus. The track closes with a guitar solo that comes in flying over top everything to bring it to a close.

Listen to CityBeat's summer playlist: